“Burnout is when you are emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted” – Susan Scott
It was Hans Selye (1907- 1982) who first gave a scientific explanation for biological stress. He called his model the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS).
The GAP states that an event that threatens an organism’s well-being (a stressor) leads to a three-stage bodily response:
Stage 1: Alarm
Upon encountering a stressor, the body reacts with a “fight-or-flight” response and the sympathetic nervous system is activated Hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin are released into the bloodstream to enable the body to meet the threat or danger The body’s resources are now mobilised and has a greater ability to deal with the stressor.
Stage 2: Resistance
- The Parasympathetic nervous system returns many physiological functions to normal levels whilst the body focuses its resources against the stressor
- Blood glucose levels remain high, cortisol and adrenalin continue to circulate at elevated levels, but the outward appearance of organism seems normal
- There is an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and breathing. The body remains on red alert.
Stage 3: Exhaustion
If the stressor continues beyond the body’s capacity, it eventually exhausts its resources and becomes susceptible to disease and death. During this phase the adrenal glands shrink and cortisol levels fall, resulting in the inability to cope with stress and leading to Burnout.
Resilience – Preventing Burnout
Working out a strategy for how you can develop your resilience to Burnout…and then acting on that strategy…is the key to preventing it.
Your strategy can take many forms and be as comprehensive and detailed or as simple and straightforward as you prefer…even thinking about the amount of detail and structure you prefer can help you understand more about what triggers an increase in pressure for you.
Develop some ‘Rituals’
One of the best ways to establish resilience is to develop a set of ‘Rituals’ that you can use to help you make decisions about where you focus your time. These rules can include aspects of your life that you have little or no control over…so creating your rules will help you to accept them and then allow you to work on the areas that you do have discretion over.
Think Short, Medium and Long Term
It is easy, but far too simplistic to believe that you can just throw everything up in the air, resign from your job and change on a sixpence. Life isn’t like that. However it is perfectly possible to work out realistic steps that you can start to apply today, some more that will take a bit of work and require more change e.g. changing your diet, so you need to develop your action plans to achieve these. And then there may be others that you realise you really want to achieve…but these are long term. Maybe working on moving into a new career.
It really helps to consider your resilience building programme using these three time scales.
Get Some Support
It may be a cliche…and yet it is true. Your plan will be much more effective if you enlist some help and support from people you trust, who can work with you to provide support and to help you challenge your assumptions and preconceptions.
Tips and Ideas to Help with Preventing Burnout
We have listed a number of our favourite ideas below. These may help you get started on building your resilience plan.
Spread the Workload
- Lower or redesign your workload – whilst it is not always possible to lower your workload, with careful attention it may be possible to re-design it to help you cope better.
- Prioritise and delegate, fit work to better suit your energy levels during the day, taking short activity breaks
- Be more assertive at turning down commitments – you don’t always need to accept someone else’s ‘Monkey’. Can you hand it back to them with the request that they propose the answers?
- Ensure you are making full and effective use of all the resources available and where possible, negotiate to get more resource
Know When you Work Best
- Find the meaning in your work – consider why you work, what purpose work plays in your life and how you go about maximising the value and enjoyment you get from your work
- Take regular breaks from your work, if you can. It has been shown that we tend to be most productive in 50 minute bursts, followed by a short break to re-charge and re-focus our attention
Adjust your Lifestyle
- Understand where the pressure in your life comes from
- Take exercise – seriously. We don’t mean run your self into the ground trying to keep fit – we mean take the time to enjoy gentle exercise – a daily 30 walk in the open air (whatever the weather) is a great way to gain a different perspective and re-charge your batteries. It also often gives you the chance to work through some knotty issues, just due to a change of scene, energy and perspective